Fleas are amazing little creatures, in some respects. When they jump, they accelerate faster than the space shuttle and up to 150 times their body length. Female fleas consume 15 times their body weight in blood every day and can lay 2,000 eggs in a typical 2-3 month life span. Within a cocoon, the pre-emerged flea can live 100 days without a meal.
The fleas found on dogs (which are almost always the cat flea species, Ctenocephalides felis), prefer dogs and cats to people. The reproductive capacity of the flea is such that just a few fleas can result in a massive infestation of your home within weeks. Most will be immature stages that you will not see until it is too late. Pre-emerged adult fleas lay in wait, emerging when they sense exhaled carbon dioxide, heat, or a shadow passing by.
How to Choose the Most Effective Dog Flea Control Products?
Protecting your dog from fleas is much easier than it was 20 years ago. Back then, the best we could do was knock the flea numbers down, but it was challenging with the products that were available. Lately, the problem is knowing which of the many products out there is right for your dog.
With so many products on the market to control fleas on your pet, how do you choose? Start by asking your veterinarian. They should be able to tell you about which products are most effective in your area. They will also be able to factor in the other pets in your home, how often your pet is bathed, tick exposure, and what other parasites you need to be concerned about. They’ll also take into account your pet’s age, weight, bathing routine, and medications that may interact with some products.
And a word to the wise: don’t buy the look-alike product in the big box store. Just because an active ingredient might be the same doesn’t mean they are equivalent to the real thing in every important respect. As you can imagine, the “inactive” vehicle in which the active ingredients of topical flea products spread across the skin surface is an essential part of the formula for them to be effective. This is where the generic and brand name products usually differ.
If the product is even 90% effective, the manufacturer can claim efficacy. But, even leaving 5% of hundreds or thousands of fleas will be too many for a lot of dogs or cats to tolerate. The product may appear to perform adequately with a low flea burden in the environment, but not so well with a heavy burden, even though it kills the same percentage of fleas in both cases.
There are a lot of effective flea products on the market. A perception that a product has not worked is more likely due to trying to stretch out the next dose beyond the manufacturer’s recommendation than anything else. Use a reminder system to keep flea prevention on schedule. Untreated pets in the household or feral animals in the environment are also common sources of treatment failure.
Speed of flea kill is an important measure of efficacy, but not all products have been evaluated in the same manner, so comparisons are imperfect. By all means learn about the products, but ask your pet’s veterinarian for their recommendation!
By Jon Plant, DVM, DACVD